With easy-to-manage materials today such as laminates, engineered wood, and engineered stone, brick can seem like a positively archaic material. In fact, as fewer brick fireplaces and chimneys are being built, working with brick can feel like a lost art, and anything to do with cutting brick or drilling into it might feel intimidating.
But working with brick does not have to be difficult. With determination and only a few basic tools, you can cut into installed brick for flawless results.
Why You May Need to Remove a Brick
Excising a single brick while leaving surrounding brick intact and in good shape is often required when a:
- Single brick is damaged or stained
- Portion of a brick wall or the brick itself needs to be removed in order to install mechanicals such an electrical outlet or plumbing pipe
- Fireplace needs to be refurbished
5 Methods of Cutting Bricks
There are several methods of cutting out a brick for removal and each has its own pros and cons:
- A circular saw fitted with a masonry blade will cut both brick and mortar, producing clean lines with a great amount of debris.
- An angle grinder with a masonry wheel also will cut through both the brick and the mortar and allows for tighter angles. Debris blow-back is significant.
- A reciprocating saw with a masonry cutting blade can cut relatively straight lines when the saw is held firmly. Typically, reciprocating saws allow for plunge cuts (for example, in drywall), but not in masonry walls.
- A high-quality multi-tool equipped with a masonry attachment does allow for plunge cuts and can be a good way to get the cut started.
- Cutting out the brick manually with a masonry chisel and a drill, which is the focus of this tutorial.
How to Manually Cut Installed Brick
The secret to removing a complete brick from a brick wall or brick fireplace: cutting the surrounding mortar.
Dried and set mortar is softer than brick and it cuts away in a predictable fashion. So, the key to taking out a brick has nothing to do with the brick itself. However, when removing only a portion of a brick, you must remove the mortar plus sever the brick in a clean line, all without causing the brick to crumble into little pieces.
When manually cutting out a brick or into a brick, take safety precautions: safety glasses, hearing protection, and thick gloves. Be patient and go slow.
Make sure to use a genuine masonry chisel. Neither a wood chisel nor a cold chisel (designed for metal) is appropriate for this job. Using either runs the risk of shattering the tool and potentially sending metal fragments flying. A masonry chisel can be identified because it will have a serrated cutting edge rather than the smooth edge seen on a cold chisel.
Tools and Supplies You Will Need
Drill Holes in the Brick
Sculptors often cut large sections of stone by drilling holes in lines and placing explosive charges in the holes. The simultaneous explosion of all of the charges outlines a cutting plane. Manually cutting a portion of a brick works in much the same way. Rather than explosive charges, the force of the hammer and chisel blows break the brick along the line.
- Draw a line across the surface of the brick where you want to cut the brick.
- Draw another line about 1/4-inch next to that first line where you will be removing the brick. You will be drilling into this second line, preserving the first line as a reference.
- Drill a series of holes along this second line, spaced no more than 1/4-inch apart.
Unless you are using a hammer drill, you will need to push hard on the drill and even wiggle it around just a bit but not enough to break off the drill bit. Excessive pressure, though, can quickly dull your masonry bit. The trick is to take your time on this operation. Bricks resist drilling, so take frequent breaks to let the bit cool down. Frequently vacuum out the holes to remove brick dust.
Cut Out the Dividers With a Chisel
Ideally, the holes will have penetrated through the entire thickness of the brick. But you can still complete the removal even if a few of the holes are only 1/2-inch to 1-inch into the brick. You do still need to have three or four holes go all the way through for a clean break.
With the masonry chisel and the hammer, lightly break out those dividers between the holes. Slightly angle the chisel toward the waste brick (the portion of the brick to be removed) so that you do not risk damaging the portion of the brick that will remain.
Chip Out the Mortar to Free the Brick
Once you have chiseled through the brick, you still need to loosen the surrounding mortar. Mortar is crumbly, so it should loosen by drilling random holes into it or by chipping it out with the chisel. Be patient and lightly chip away or use your chisel as a lever to pry the brick. A small pry bar can also be a good tool to pull out loosened mortar.
Remove the Brick by Hand
With all of the obstructions gone, you should be able to remove the brick by hand. Some wiggling may be necessary.
Smooth Out the Edges of the Brick
Use your chisel to smooth out the rough edges of the brick to an acceptable point. After about ten minutes of careful chipping, you should have reasonably clean sides to work with. It also helps to lightly run it down with a wire brush.